More than 25,000 university courses currently have vacancies for UK applicants.
Last year more than 50,000 people got a place at university through the clearing system.
Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of university admissions service Ucas, said:
Despite the fall in applications this year, entry to higher education remains competitive and we expect to see an active clearing period.
It is important that all students research course requirements thoroughly and think carefully before making a decision that is likely to affect their future career.
Anyone considering applying again next year can research 2013 courses on our website now.
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